By McNeese SID Matthew Bonnette
HUNTSVILLE, Texas – A fierce second-half rally nearly gave McNeese State its first three-game winning streak in eight years, but a controversial ending sent the Cowboys home with an 86-81 loss to Sam Houston State in Southland Conference action here Thursday night.
McNeese (4-11, 2-1) trailed 58-34 with 16:30 to play but then slowly began to chip away at the Bearkat lead. A 37-foot straight away jumper by Shaun Johnson with 2.6 seconds left made it a 1-point game at 82-81.
After a Cowboys' foul before the ball was put into play, Sam Houston's Paul Baxter missed the front end of his two foul shots. His second shot became lodged in between the rim and the backboard. One official ruled it McNeese's ball even though the possession arrow favored Sam Houston State (10-5, 2-1). After an official's meeting, the ball was awarded to the Bearkats who knocked down two more free throws then a layup to end the game.
Ledrick Eackles led all scorers with 25 points but it was the hot hand of Shaun Johnson that put the Cowboys in position to win the game. Johnson scored all of his 12 points in the second half and was 4 for 4 from three-point range. He hit three treys in the final five minutes.
McNeese cut the lead to 17 points after Johnson made his first 3-pointer but the Bearkats quickly scored five to go back up by 22 with 11:30 to play. It was an 18-point game at 70-52 following two Bearkat free throws by Kaheem Ransm with 7:01 to play. McNeese then started chipping away at the lead and went on a 30-12 run behind the shooting of Johnson and Eackles to cut it to 82-81.
The Cowboys made 23 of 55 from the field but knocked down 15 of 28 for 53.6 percent in the second half. After hitting 4 of 14 in the first half from long range in the first half, McNeese drained 7 of 13 in the second and finished by making 11 of 27 for 40.7 percent. The Cowboys, the conference's No. 1 free throw shooting team, hit 24 of 31 for the game.
Keelan Garrett was the only other McNeese player to score in double figures as he finished with 10 points.
The Bearkats hit 42.9 percent (24 of 56) from the field but was just 9 of 24 in the second half. SHSU held a 42-33 advantage in rebounds including a 17-9 mark on the offensive glass.
Five Sam Houston players scored in double figures led by Ransom's 17 points.
The two teams battled to three ties and three lead changes in the first five minutes of the game before Sam Houston State scored 12-straight to go up 17-7 with 12:52 to play in the half.
The Bearkats slowly built that lead and halted the slightest McNeese threat with three-pointers or second chance points.
A three-pointer by Garrett cut the gap to 19-12 with 10:34 to play in the half but five straight points by Jabari Peters upped the Bearkat lead to 26-12 two minutes later. The lead got to 21 points for Sam with 2:07 to play when Hardy took a steal and one ended with one of his showtime dunks and the Cowboys trailed 48-31 at the half.